By Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, and Thomas Mauer
A gang on the run from the law, hot sun beating down upon an arid landscape, getting caught in the scope of a sniper and heck, even a good ol’fashioned stampede. Welcome to the galactic frontier care of comics’ preeminent Space Western, Copperhead. Everyone’s favorite Deputy takes center stage this issue in what is ostensibly a rough and tumble flexing of various parties’ muscles; brother vs. brother, former compatriots in battle now on opposite sides, and as always, the law vs. the lawless. The action is tight and dynamic as always thanks to the talents of Scott Godlewski and Ron Riley, but they shroud a much deeper chess game at the heart of this issue courtesy of Faerber’s sharp scripting. Issue #8 does feel a tad light (with only 18 pages of story) despite the start of an interesting character examination of Boo, perhaps that just goes to show how much spark Clara brings to this title, but it’s still every ounce of concentrated Western-trope sincerity you’ve come to love about Copperhead.
There sure is a lot of machismo flowing through this one, but it’s hardly just a mindless punch fest. Faerber instills the constant threat of conflict throughout issue #8, both the overt and the obscured. Coming face-to-face with another of his kind, someone who not so long ago he would have proudly fought alongside, Boo is viewed as a traitor to his species by one of his captors. Despite his obvious resentment towards “humans” (which is humorously acknowledged as often being a figure of speech in this issue”) Boo has still willingly served alongside, or under, them. Therein lies his internal conflict, long made apparent with sharp jabs and quips, but rarely voiced so clearly. Enter Brexinfoyle, serving as both hired muscle to an outlaw gang as well as what is essentially Boo’s own inner struggle. Faerber’s created a foil to Boo here that’s his own dark mirror, albeit certainly less intelligent, that echoes Boo’s own doubts aloud: “They said we lost the war and you just accepted it! Fell right in line and went to work for them!” With a cool, crafty confidence, Boo doesn’t flinch and his allegiance doesn’t swerve, but Faerber’s planted the seeds both in this issue and before, that Boo’s struggle may not stay internalized forever.
Between all that inner guilt and tough-guy chest thumping, Faerber once again finagles that Western bandit patois to comfortably fit between authentic and satire. Issue #8 is a great little tale about moving a prisoner across the harsh terrain with the leadership dynamic of the gang constantly shifting atop of the ideas of familial loyalty and that inevitable outlaw betrayal. Faerber expands the world a bit by letting us take a peek at these roughnecks and what that really means on an alien world. It’s probably a wise choice to flesh out our supporting cast away from Clara, but her absence is definitely felt with the differences between her gung-ho style and Boo’s craftiness made readily apparent. Without that badass snark, the issue does feel like it could use a little more meat, a little more of that playful bite to go along with our gunplay. Obviously, Boo isn’t that type of character and he’s handled very well as are Zolo (the gang leader) and the aforementioned Brex, but the rest of the gang, perhaps intentionally, are a little thin. Ultimately, this is a transport issue looking at some interesting group and character dynamics that is planting seeds for larger, more complex conflicts to come if the opening two pages are any indication. (Hint: they are and it is awesome).
Godlewski is as clean as sharp as ever in issue #8 to the point where finding new ways to convey his talent is becoming problematic. It’s a good problem to have, mind you. His knack for controlling story beats seems effortless, able to ramp up the tension or let it linger on a whim. The cinematic quality to the opening drips with space opera, using quick subject-to-subject cuts back and forth to best amplify the dire situation, and then manipulate our expectations with a close-up and pan out to a panel rife with potential. That will all make far more sense once you read it, promise. Godlewski’s sharp angular style (love those character profiles; check out those chins!) lends itself so well to the restraint shown in his rendering. Characters are fully expressive using a conservative amount of strokes, a strong outline and only the most necessary of hashes and the like, and when paired with his design work, it’s a hell of a fun world to visit each month.
Due to the setting this issue, namely the desert, there was little opportunity for background work, so a fair number of panels are lacking interest beyond the characters. Godlewski more than makes up for it with some imaginative panel layouts, specifically the trapezoidal panel with overlapping circles in the telescoping scene that mirrors the window our outlaw is looking through and the following page that utilizes a heavy sphere atop three curved panels (coincidentally creating a sort of Image comics logo) that represents the interior view of the scope. The plethora of different panel shapes prevents monotony and pulls you further into the world. A little sparse in places, sure, but Godlewski plays director with ease balancing the action (shout out to the three panel hop-over-your-handcuffed-hands-while-running sequence) and drama (shout out to basically everything with Boo and Brex) with his usual flair that consistently makes Copperhead exist in a fully realized universe all its own, and one of the best looking books available.
Rich texturing can be found in all of the terrain complementing the smooth bold pop of most of the cast courtesy of Ron Riley’s colors. With subtle shading and a sponged earthen application, the desert feels harsh and worn like leather even with the fairly limited palette of warms and neutrals this issue. Riley ensures the character’s varying skin tones which run a gamut of pinks, purples and blues, are smooth and subtly indicate the light source atop the rougher backgrounds. Paired with Godlewski’s subtle marks in the dust and hashes on the rock arches, it’s an art collaboration that plays off each other very well.
With conflict above and below the surface and the prospect of a very complicated reunion on the horizon, Copperhead remains a pleasure to ride into every month. Issue #8 feels less dense than some previous issues, which is bound to happen when your breakout star character takes a backseat, but still moves at just the right clip to provide a satisfying blend of genre tropes and character examination. Boo is a large part of this title and starting to dig into his psyche and strife is a welcome change, even if this issue only just scratches the surface. Stellar artwork and tight scripting ensure that Copperhead #8 is a Boo-tiful experience. *Audible “boos” are heard*